Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The New York Islanders from A to Z

Puck Daddy's NHL A to Z
Puck Daddy's NHL A to Z

(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)

By: Dee Karl

A. Al Arbour

The Islanders coach from 1972 through the '93-'94 season; one of the greatest coaches in NHL history.

Arbour coached the Isles Dynasty to four Stanley Cup wins from 1979 – 1983 and did it with the likes of Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier. But just because he had these NHL greats in his line-up didn’t mean the wins were easy.  Listen to Denis Potvin tell stories of Arbour’s coaching style. You’ll laugh a little.  But you’ll also understand the work ethic that drove them to those wins.

B. Brooklyn

God-dam effin’ Brooklyn… (On the inside.)  The Islanders’ new home with its rusty breadbasket exterior and leaking green grass roof is a far cry from ‘the barn’ the Islanders called home for more than four decades.

But it’s new, high tech and should be a profit center for a team that has been bleeding red ink for years. Put aside the fact that hockey was not factored into the Barclays design, much has been done to accommodate the team, the new owners and their fans. If it will be enough has yet to be determined.

C. Capuano, Jack

Head coach of the Islanders since November 2010, when he relieved Scott Gordon of his duties following a 10-game losing streak. Jack had been an assistant Isles coach prior to Gordon's arrival, and was coaching the AHL Sound Tigers when he was moved up and received the title as an ‘interim coach.' There was much dissent at the time as other experienced NHL coaches were on the unemployment line.

New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. The Penguins won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. The Penguins won 3-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The ‘interim’ tag was removed in April 2011 as he claimed the bench and since then he has been teetering between zero and hero with the fans. While chants of “Cappy must go!” followed almost every Isles loss, management never lost faith in him.  However, two premature exits from playoffs and the last season of Wang majority control may keep him on a short leash in the new digs.  

His saving grace is the players are behind him since he will never throw any of them under a bus to the media – EVER.  He is a player’s coach.

D. DiPietro, Rick

The first American goalie to be drafted first overall in an NHL Entry draft in 2000.  That in itself was a great thing, but the events in the years that followed turned DiPietro into the most maligned Islander of modern time.  

Not only did the Islanders give up Roberto Luongo for him, but he was given the first 15-year NHL contract in 2005 which became the media standard for ridiculous NHL contracts. This is, until 2010, when the NJ Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year contract

But, the Islanders were always the leaders in what at first was deemed insane and then became the industry standard. (Though the Sumo goalie thing was just a joke… a joke, people.) While Rick was the hardest working goalie you could find, his body couldn’t keep up with his mouth or his talent and he endured injury and ridicule until the Islanders used a compliance buyout in 2013 to end DiPietro’s career as an Islander – and a professional hockey player. He can now be heard on talk radio with Alan Hahn while the Islanders will be paying him until 2020.

Here's an Islander fan favorite DiPietro moment from over the years. (Warning: EARMUFFS!)

E. ECHL Team

This season, it is the Missouri Mavericks.  This is about the fourth ECHL team affiliation for the Islanders I have seen since I’ve been covering them; Stockton Thunder, Utah Grizzles, Kalamazoo Wings, and are some of the others. Having an ECHL team affiliation is not quite as important as having an AHL affiliation, but when you’ve had as many injury-riddled seasons as the Islanders, suddenly they’re very important. It’s also a good place to deposit prospects that don’t live up to their hype.

F. Fish sticks

Fish Sticks was the derogatory term both rival fans and disgruntled Isle fans used to describe the fisherman logo that defaced Islander jerseys from 1995 – 1997. In an effort to pay homage to the past, the jersey made a comeback last season and has been selling like fish sticks in Maine. Nostalgia or stupidity is the question.

Wearing the Fisherman jersey of the late 1990's, New York Islanders center Ryan Strome (18) high fives with fans as he comes off the ice after warmups before the NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders are celebrating their 43 years of history at the Nassau Coliseum and the team wore the special jerseys featuring the "Fisherman" crest during warmups. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
Wearing the Fisherman jersey of the late 1990's, New York Islanders center Ryan Strome (18) high fives with fans as he comes off the ice after warmups before the NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders are celebrating their 43 years of history at the Nassau Coliseum and the team wore the special jerseys featuring the "Fisherman" crest during warmups. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Fish Sticks is also the name of the book by Alan Hahn and Peter Botte that is a must read for any Islander fan that wants to know the real story behind the turmoil of the 1990s Isles. Read it. You’ll love it.

G. Gillies, Clark and Grabner, Michael

One extreme to another. Clark Gillies, chosen in the first round of the 1974 draft while Bryan Trottier was chosen in the second, retired No. 9, tough guy, skilled guy, all-around good guy, Isles legend, and (former Puck Daddy writer) Justin Bourne’s father-in-law.

Michael Grabner (The Gremlin): Waiver wire pick-up, greased lightning on skates from Austria sits in his last year of a $5-million per contract. He played only 34 games last season due to injury.  He may never play another game in an Islander sweater – but if he does, he should keep his head up so he can find the back of the net when he is dazzling with his speed.

H. Ho-Sang, Josh

The 19-year-old winger was drafted by the Isles in the first round of the 2014 draft.  He knows how to make a name for himself.  While playing for Windsor, that name wasn’t always good.  That didn’t deter Garth Snow, who has been known to take chances on draft picks.  Some work out, some don’t. The NHL draft is always a crap-shoot, but Ho Sang has a good chance of being a gamble that pays off. He’s entertaining on the ice and in interviews, a name to watch this coming season.

I. Ice

Naturally, Ice making is an art and important to any team’s success. The Islanders had issues at the Coliseum in their last few seasons and giant compressors were built on the outer concourse to help keep the ice up to NHL standards.

Now with fresh ice in a new building designed for basketball, even Newsday’s Art Staple mentioned Dan Craig, the NHL’s ice guru, was on hand at the Isles rookie scrimmage on July 9 to check things out.  The ice was soft, as it was the year prior during the preseason game.  It bears watching. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is also keeping an eye on it since he was somewhat involved in this move to Brooklyn.  An ice watch is almost as entertaining as watching paint dry, but is a little more important.

J. JT

John Tavares, baby!  The clouds part and birds sing when he walks by.  Drafting Tavares is the single most important event for the Isles in the last decade.

This IS John Tavares’ team in every sense of the word.  And to think, the Canadian media keeps trying to get him to leave Long Island. (I heard it with my own ears in the locker room.)  

Instead, he grew from a pretty shy teen in 2009 to an NHL super star without having the hockey media reporting every time he sneezed. He is still one of Canada’s favorite sons, but nowhere near as divisive to hockey fans as Canada’s other favorite son – Sidney Crosby. Credit living with Doug Weight and his family, credit being able to keep a low profile or just credit JT for being a smart man with a Jeter-esque personality.

K. Kirill Petrov

The Islanders have waited SEVEN years for Petrov to fulfill his obligations in Russia’s hockey machine. He signed a onr-year, entry-level NHL contract in July and I can’t wait to see what he can do.  

I haven’t seen him since rookie camp in 2010 when he attended with the other Kirill;Kirill Kabanov.  I doubt Petrov’s fate will be as disastrous as Kabanov’s.  How do you say ‘train wreck’ in Russian?

L. Laviolette, Peter

Head coach of the Islanders for two seasons from 2001 – 2003.  He led the playoff-drought-stricken Islanders back to the post season, but the locker room issues doomed his career with the Isles and he was replaced by Steve Stirling, a coach with no NHL experience.  

Stirling was less than successful leading a team captained by Alexei Yashin and lasted less than two seasons.  Laviolette, who always managed to land on his feet, went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes and was still fired a few more times.  The NHL Coaching Carousel is a brutal ride. NHL coaches are hired to be fired. (Unless you’re Jack Capuano.)

M. Milbury, Mike

He is the punchline to every Islander joke ever written and most famous for beating a Ranger fan with his own shoe in the stands while in a Bruins uniform, but equally infamous for making bad deals for the Isles as their GM.  To be fair, some of the bad deals he made were due to poor ownership.  But horrid drafting had nothing to do with owner money and everything to do with bad decisions that would haunt the Isles for years.  

In 2003, he opted to draft Robert Nilsson (who had a knee issue as told to an Islanders booster Club meeting) over Zach Parise.  That will be one of the things written on his tombstone.  Milbury was behind the bench from 1995 – 1997, sharing the coaching duties with Rick Bowness and Bill Stewart.  He was named General Manager in December of 1995 and remained GM until 2006.  He stayed with Charles Wang as VP until 2007 when he abruptly resigned and unceremoniously left the Island.  

His meme-worthy comments can be found all over YouTube (there are way too many to choose from).

N. Nassau County

Nassau will be the cash-strapped losers in the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn. Looking to keep any tie to the only professional sports team they had - thank you Kate Murray - approval for offices and practice rink for the Isles has been approved for Cantiague Park in Hicksville to be built using Charles Wang’s own money that the county has been holding onto since his failed Lighthouse Project bid.  

While residents and politicians grapple over tax abatements for the Coliseum property, I’m certain even the Cantiague project will be delayed... because nothing ever gets done in Nassau.

O. Okposo, Kyle

The Islanders own “Captain America.” After being snubbed by USA Hockey in 2014 as not built for big Olympic ice, he was embraced by fans as he went on to prove the national team brass wrong by scoring 69 points in the ’13-’14 season with four game-winning goals.  

Drafted in 2006 and in the final year of a five-year contract, Okposo is the second most important piece on today’s Islanders.  Prior to this year’s NHL draft, there was much talk about Okposo being used as trade bait, but he is so important to the chemistry of this team that I really couldn’t see that happening. He missed a considerable amount of time last season with an eye injury and still finished second on the team in points and assists.

P. Pricing

Pricing; as in “dynamic pricing” at Barclays which seems to be causing sticker shock for long-time Islander fans.  Seriously, we all knew the move would put the Isles on a different pricing level, but hopefully not the Toronto Maple Leafs level.

Face it, with a lack of success on the ice we had become spoiled rotten with cheap tickets. Kiss those days goodbye.

Q. Qualifying offer(s)

As of late July, Brock Nelson has not accepted his QO and the #BrockNelsonWatch has begun.  Even with new owners (almost, Wang is co-owner for the ’15-‘16 season), no signed contract prior to camp opening means not playing the season.  It happened to Sean Bergenheim in 2006. Hopefully it won’t get to that point, but it’s interesting to see the fans in absolute panic mode.

R. Ranger fans

Every Islander fan’s nemesis.  How will the move to Brooklyn affect that dynamic?  Since the Isles invaded the NY landscape as an expansion team in 1972, the division between Islander fans and Ranger fans has been strong enough to tear families apart.  But will putting the Isles in the Rangers’ backyard cause the same family distress?  Will there be more Ranger fans at Barclays than there were at the old barn?  Will Ranger fans be overcome by a new generation of Islander fans?  Will the rivalry be more intense than ever?  I shudder to think.

S. Snow, Garth

Stepping out of goalie pads and into a suit in July 2006 wasn’t easy for Snow, who didn’t have a good relationship with the media to begin with.  He was instantly maligned by every media outlet. Pairing the short tenure of experienced GM Neil Smith and the idea of an inexperienced ex-goalie GM as nothing but a three-ring circus in Uniondale, the media was relentless.

But Garth Snow never wavered from doing things his way and learning as he went along. Other GMs tried to prey on his inexperience, but they didn’t get far. Now he’s looked at as a pretty darn good NHL General Manager.  

Yet, much like Milbury’s shoe incident, Snow’s oversized shoulder pads are part of NHL folk lore he will never escape.

T. Television

The Isles TV contract with Cablevision has the team relegated to their MSG+ feed and sometimes their MSG ++ feed or even their overflow you’ll-never-find-it feed.  But the broadcast contract is a profit center for the Isles and will last long after I’m dead (it runs until 2030).

Cablevision, owner of Newsday, MSG, Radio City and the Rangers, can air the Isles wherever they want. It’s not unusual to see the Dolan-owned Rangers air on TWO MSG HD feeds, and the Isles bumped down the channel lineup. They can also control who gets the HD feed and who doesn’t.  That being said, the pre-game broadcasts have been quality, and Isles broadcast teams have won Emmys.

U. Underdogs

Underdogs is a role the Isles relished playing for years. This will no longer be the case.  They are now contenders and will have to adapt to that mindset.  They have lived so long in the shadow of the press-dominated NY Rangers that the 25-mile move to Brooklyn may just put them on equal promotional footing with their cross-town rivals.

That will be the job of the Barclays’ marketing machine, as ALL non-hockey operations are now in their hands.

V. Voices

The Islanders’ broadcast booth has seen many now-famous NHL announcers and legends in the industry.  

Jiggs McDonald and Eddie Westfall were the iconic Islander broadcasters from 1980 to 1995, while “The Maven” Stan Fischler, Joe Micheletti, Deb Kaufman-Placey, Billy Jaffe and Howie Rose have all had a say in the Isles broadcast booth. It’s important to remember, however, they are all MSG employees. (Especially when they are reassigned.)

The only voices who receive a paycheck with an Isles logo on it is the radio team that once contained NHL Network’s Steve Mears.  But it is longtime radio announcer Chris King who languishes in relative obscurity on short distance signals year after year.  The radio contract has been a bone of contention for the past few seasons.  And while many may say “who needs radio?” it’s surprising how many will look to turn it on or stream the feed. King’s broadcasts are worth the effort.

W. Writers

If you enjoy hockey bloggers having access to NHL management and players, thank the Islanders who were the first to give hockey bloggers unprecedented access and threw them in the lion’s den with the mainstream media.  And for that, I am eternally grateful and also the first blogger to interview the NHL Commissioner in his office. (Blog Boxers forever.)

X. eXpletive

During an interview on the 2014 NHL entry draft broadcast Garth Snow told TSN’s James Duthie that he wasn’t worried what the media said about Isles first-round draft pick Josh Ho Sang, since“They s**t on me too.”

So much for TV’s seven-second delay.

Y. Yashin, Alexei

Acquired by the Islanders in 2001 in a lopsided deal with Ottawa, Yashin, a talented player, had reneged on his player contract in 1995 and backed out of a charity donation because of conditions not being met.

Welcomed to the Islanders along with Michael Peca, Yashin wasn’t exactly PR magic and his 10-year, $87.5-million Albatross contract was reduced by 24-percent with the 2005 CBA.  

After a skate slice to his forearm in December 2003, he was never quite the same and was in and out of the line-up. Ultimately, he was finally bought out for $17.63-million in 2007 and paid $2.2 million per year for eight long years - AND HE FINALLY CAME OFF THE BOOKS THIS OFF-SEASON

Even so, he is still close friends with Charles Wang and probably his best tennis partner.

Z. cZuczman, Kevin

The 6’2” 24-year-old defenseman has accepted his qualifying-offer from the Isles, but you tell me… HOW DO YOU GET ‘CHURCHMAN’ OUT OF THAT NAME? HOW?

Meet the author: Dee Karl, winner of the 2004 NHL 7th Man contest for the NY Islanders, is an original member of the 2007 NY Islanders Blog Box.  She made the transition from living room couch to the press box and back again covering the NYI as a fan advocate. Follow her on Twitter @7thWoman.

Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago | Colorado | Columbus | Dallas | Detroit | Edmonton | Florida | Los Angeles | Minnesota | Montreal | Nashville | New Jersey

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